President Obama's view of citizen journalism

Ron Ross

President Barack Obama told a meeting of students: "With iPods and iPads; Xboxes and PlayStations – none of which I know how to work – information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation. All of this is not only putting new pressures on you. It is putting new pressures on our country and on our democracy."

Let me respectfully disagree with what the American president said to the graduating class at Hampton University in Virginia this summer on at least three points and agree with him on one very important point made in his speech.

First of all, he claimed to not know how to work iPods and iPads, Xboxes and PlayStations. We all remember one of the first problems Candidate Obama had with the Secret Service was the constant use of his Blackberry and their concern for his security. All of us who are addicted to our technology empathised with him and wondered how he could survive without his Blackberry in hand.

So, I have to think that the first “technology president,” who has two young daughters, probably also has an Xbox or a PlayStation in one room or another of the White House. I also suspect that he often plays games with his daughters, I know I would. So, his statement that he did not know how to operate the new technology he spoke of was, to my thinking, a little disingenuous.

I also disagree that “information becomes a distraction”. On the contrary, information is the only way to increase our intelligence, enliven our creativity and enlarge our worldview. For a president who became famous for relying heavily on social media to get elected (remember the iPhone “Obama app” during the election?), who has millions of fans on Facebook, who uses YouTube, Twitter and every other social media to communicate with voters, to claim that all this Internet stuff is just “a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment” is to condemn one of his most significant accomplishments.

My third disagreement with President Obama, and this may sound nit-picky but I think it’s worth emphasising, the USA is not a democracy. The USA was intentionally established as a republic - a representative government – to protect the rights of the minority. The technical differences are profound and I sincerely wish the President would use the proper words to describe the form of government as it is fundamental to what Americans stand for.

There is one part of his speech that I fully agree with. He urged the grads to be role models and mentors to younger people. He challenged them to teach the importance of education and personal responsibility. He said they must be taught to sift through the many voices “clamouring for attention on blogs, on cable, on talk radio” and help them find the truth.

Citizen journalists – it is your job to get the truth out there where the citizens can find it. It’s the truth the public is clamouring for and it’s the truth that a republic needs in order to survive. That is why the many voices found on the Internet are not a distraction, a diversion or a form of entertainment but a tool of empowerment and a means of emancipation.